11 Feb 2010


The peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. Herein lies the educational value of Geography.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p272
Maps must be carefully used in this type of work - a sketch-map following the traveller's progress, to be compared finally with a complete map of the region; and the teacher will exact a description of such and such a town, and such and such a district, marked on the map, by way of testing and confirming the child's exact knowledge. In this way, too, he gets intelligent notions of physical geography; in the course of his readings he falls in with a description of a volcano, a glacier, a cañon, a hurricane; he hears all about, and asks and learns the how and the why, of such phenomena at the moment when his interest is excited. In other words, he learns as his elders elect to learn for themselves, though they rarely allow the children to tread in paths so pleasant.

Charlotte Mason Home Education pp 275-6

Did you know that there are oil wells around modern Baku in Azerbaijan? Jemimah does. She learned it the way Charlotte Mason suggests, in the course of her reading about the adventures of Marco Polo. As she heard about fountains that flowed with dark oily liquid - oil that bubbled from the earth instead of water, her interest was excited, and this piece of otherwise boring geography was brought to life just as Miss Mason told us it would be.

When Marco Polo in 1264 visited the Azerbaijani city of Baku, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, he saw oil being collected from seeps. He wrote that "on the confines toward Geirgine there is a fountain from which oil springs in great abundance, inasmuch as a hundred shiploads might be taken from it at one time." Is that interesting to you? It is to my daughter.

As Jemimah records Marco Polo's journey each week on her map, her knowledge of physical geography increases as an incidental side effect of her study of the remarkable travels of a man through the entire civilized World of the 1200's. And remarkable it was - so fantastic that many considered it a fable, but it was true.

Then, again, geography should be learned chiefly from maps. Pictorial readings and talks introduce him to the subject, but so soon as his geography lessons become definite they are to be learned, in the first place, from the map. This is an important principle to bear in mind. The child who gets no ideas from considering the map, say of Italy or of Russia, has no knowledge of geography, however many facts about places he may be able to produce.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p 278
Our study of geography through maps has had its ups and downs...as any good topographical map should have. Actually, that's a gag. Rather a good one though, in my own humble opinion. What I started to say is that sometimes we do this better than at other times. Our study of the Great Lakes in AO1 using an outline map was great- partially, I believe, because we were learning the shapes and names and features of the lakes not the surrounding country and so being able to colour the bodies of water made their shape stand out better. Using an outline map of the world to mark the travels of Trim and his master, Matthew Flinders, went less well. In hindsight, I think the sheer magnitude of the journey resulted in too much colouring and other busy work. Likewise, our mapping of Del and Bushbo's journey around Australia on another outline map was pretty uninspiring.

Our most successful mapping exercises have been our own. Plotting our travels on a map is terrific fun - whether the journey has been international or domestic. Jemimah loves plotting our route on a map as it happens, forecasting when we will arrive at the next town, and telling us what we should be able to see through our car window as we travel. Our country road atlas is fun for this.

The way I see it, the correct map is integral to our enjoyment of physical geography. Finding the perfect map for Marco Polo was a challenge. Ideally I wanted something old looking. Preferably Mediaeval. Maps can be expensive too, and I didn't want to spend too much. My hunt finally brought me to Zetta Florence in Brunswick Street.

You can see the maps we chose above. Jemimah is pointing our Marco Polo's route marked in black. (She asks you to please notice her new ring as well.) It is called a General Map of The World, by Cavallini & Co., and believe it or not, it is wrapping paper. It cost me a whole $7.95, and it is just perfect. As you can see, it highlights Africa, but also Europe and Asia - just what we needed. I'm telling you this because you can buy these maps online. There are maps of Australian states, European cities and countries and more, all at the same low price. The quality is excellent too, with a nice grain to the paper and just the right weight to be robust enough for youngsters but not too hard to roll and store. I thoroughly recommend them.

If you don't need them for mapping, they look wonderful framed on the wall as well.

This is the stylish Paloma Contreras' living room as shown on the pages of her blog La Dolce Vita. I'm sure you'll agree that her Cavallini & Co. maps look like they cost an awful lot more than just $7.95 each!!


  1. Hi Jeanne,
    Wow - Charlotte Mason has such a delightful and gentle way of teaching geography!

    Could you please add me to your friends list? My link is:

    Have a wonderful week,

  2. Love the maps, haven't met a map I didn't like actually. And I truly admire that ring. Slender, and elegant, just like Jemimah herself.

    The resources I found you for mapping are mostly digital, so may not suit. I will post them soon anyway.

  3. Ooooo, love this post, and I'm coming back to read it again. It's perfectly timely for me, too, since I just bought a new map of the US yesterday and placed it in the kitchen. I am preparing to review some of the states we have studied, and your bringing out what Charlotte Mason said is exactly what I needed!

    Thank you!

  4. Very interesting post. Never really thought of maps that way. Thanks for opening my brain up a bit!

  5. I ♥ this post!! I couldn't agree more. My children have learned so much through the CM method of teaching geography. We've never needed to buy a curriculum. Maps and living books are the best and most memorable way to go.

  6. Glad you liked studying H-O-M-E-S, which as any North American child my age knows means the Great Lakes: Heron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior!

    Marco Polo DOES lend himself to mapping very well--and he goes thru such interesting places.

    One thing I loved about doing the Holling C. Holling books were the lovely maps I bought from Beautiful Feet Publishers. We still have them! They really became works of art [no, not paid to promote these!]

  7. I've always loved maps. In fact, map-reading is a sort of hobby of mine. Whenever we go on a trip, I have the map opened and in my lap, where I follow it along our route. And any time I plan a trip, the map is my guide.

    We're doing Marco Polo, too, but have only just begun. Now I'm looking forward to the maps portion of our study!

  8. Jeanne, I forgot to ask why book you're using to study Marco Polo!

  9. Jeanne, your geography posts are always stunning! IMO, you should collect your CM posts and have them printed into a book entitled "A Peaceful Day: the beauty of a Charlotte Mason education." I would keep it on my end table!

    Like Hopewell, we used Beautiful Feet's map for "Paddle to the Sea" & it was a magical mapping experience. The boys loved doing the salt-dough map of Egypt this term. Not nearly as lovely but they were able to understand why the south of the country is Upper Egypt and the north Lower.

    Ooh, would love to do that map tetraptych in Max's room

  10. p.s. You would have to include the picture of Jemimah counting on her toes for maths as well!

  11. I absolutely loved this post but first off please tell Jemimah that I noticed her ring before you even mentioned it on your post...it's beautiful:)
    Secondly, I'm with Richele, you do need to produce a book one day on your CM writings, they are brilliant!
    You bring CM to life for all of us and isn't that what CM would want?:)

  12. Hi Jeanne!

    Love the gag! Love the ring! Love the maps!

    I'm off to follow your links now and have some fun.

    Glad your back posting...missed you for a few days there. :)

  13. Just found your blog and can't wait to read more! I love your map post! Maps are a work of art. We are enjoying hands on activities with maps. I also love the way you have adapted AO to Austrailia. From Western Cape, South Africa


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